Posts Tagged ‘Marilu Henner’


January 28, 2017

“MEMORY WIZARDS”  is the title of a chapter in “THE MEMORY ILLUSION” by psychologist Julia Shaw, Ph.D.  The subtitle is HSAMs, braincams, and islands of genius.  The teaching point of the chapter is “Why no one has infallible memory.”

The idea of a braincam was that memory was like a video recorder keeping track of everything we do.  This idea was promulgated by American neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield in his 1952 publication, “Memory Mechanisms.”  Penfield’s work as a neurosurgeon required him to probe different portions of the brain, so that he could identify the correct areas to perform surgery.  During this probing, his patients who were awake, the brain does not feel pain itself, patients would report vivid memories of particular instances in their lives.  Not surprisingly, this led to the notion of a braincam effectively recording each of our lives.  However, in spite of the vividness of the recall, there was no way to confirm the accuracy of these recalls and to distinguish them from visions generated from the stimulation.  After much additional work was done regarding memory, the notion of a braincam was discarded, and memory was found to be highly error prone.  Moreover, the confidence expressed in a memory did not correlate well with the accuracy of the memory.

HSAM stands for highly successful autobiographical memory.  There have been several prior HM posts on HSAM.  Perhaps one of the most interesting HM posts is titled “The Importance of Memory.”  The actress Marilu Henner, who was one of the stars on the TV Program “Taxi” is also a HSAMer.  She has written a book “Total Memory Makeover,” which has been summarized in the HM post “Who Has a Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory and What Can She Tell Us.”  HSAMers can provide detailed accounts of their lives by date.  That is, if you asked what happened to them on 29 August 1999, they could tell you in an amazing amount of detail.  Still, they cannot tell you everything, and what they do provide can sometimes, but not frequently, contain an error.  In other respects, their memories are similar to the rest of us.  If given a list of words to remember, their performance will correspond to the rest of us.   And they make similar errors as we do with respect to false memories.  Dr. Shaw says that she does not see any particular advantage that HSAMers have.  Apparently, she has not read Marilu Henner’s book, because Henner says that her ability has helped her as an actress.  She feels that her ability has provided insights into the why and wherefores of others.

Photographic memory is another topic on which most people have misconceptions.  The technical term for photographic memory is eidetic memory.  Here’s how it is tested.  An unfamiliar picture is shown to participants on an easel for 30 seconds.  This might not seem like much time, but researchers often this limited viewing time because most people neither continue encoding detail nor care to after 30 seconds  looking at the same picture.  After the image has been removed the person is instructed to describe everything they can about the picture.   People with eidetic  memory report that they can still see the picture, that they can scan and examine their personal memory of the image as if it were still in front of them.  Eidetic images differ from regular visual memories which can arguably last forever.  Eidetic images  can last only a couple of minutes.  The images usually fade away piece by piece  rather than as a whole, and the eidetiker  has no control over which components remain in memory.  However, even eidetikers  can misremember entire objects and forget pieces of scenes.  So their exceptional memories for a particular image can still have some flaws.

Moreover, it appears that this kind of memory only exists in children.  In one of the few reviews of the literature on this topic dated  back to 1975, researchers Cynthia Gray and Kent Gummeran estimated that 5% of children have eidetic  memory and 0% of adults do.

Then there are the idiot savants such as depicted in the Oscar winning movie Rain Man.  Here the exceptional memories are linked to some abnormality such as autism.  So these memories are purchased at an outrageous cost.  The simple point is that forgetting is needed.  It is obviously needed in cases of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, where traumatic memories either need to be forgotten or accommodated.

The teaching point of the chapter is more than  “Why no one has infallible memory.”  It is “no one wants an infallible memory.”  Infallible memories lead to too many memories, memories that interfere with the important information that needs to be remembered.

The Healthymemory blog is a strong advocate of meditation and mindfulness.   Meditation helps us gain control of our valuable, but limited, resource of attention.  We need to be able to focus our attention to use it to best advantage.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.



May 31, 2016

HSAM stands for Highly Superior Autobiographic Memory (You can learn more about HSAM by entering HSAM into the search block of the healthy memory blog).  There have been several television shows regarding HSAMers, which you might have seen.  If you ask these folks what they were doing on a particularly day they can provide a remarkably accurate summary  OCD stands for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.  A piece in the April 9, 2016 New Scientist titled “People who never forget their past could have unique kind of OCD).

The article summarized a couple of studies trying to determine what makes a person a HSAMer.  The research indicated that no particular ability underlies HSAM.  HSAMers  scored only slightly better, and only on certain tests, than a comparable control group.  The HSAMers and the comparable control group had comparable recall of events from the preceding week.  HSAMers,. however, had a far superior memory of the more distant past.  The conclusion was that HSAMers are no better at acquiring memories, but are much better at retaining memories.

The researchers did note that HSAMers often show obsessive compulsive behaviors.  The researchers do not believe that HSAMers do not actively try to memorize the past.  Rather they might accidentally strengthen their memories by habitually recalling and reflecting upon their own lives.

I was extremely gratified to read this explanation.  After reading Marilu Henners’ book “Total Memory Makeover” I had come to a similar conclusion.  Although Marilu Henner did not describe this as a technique she used, her past life was important to her and she had a tendency to review it.  She did find that being a HSAMer helped her as an actress.

Healthymemory is the polar opposite of an HSAMer.  If you asked him what today is, he would need to consult a calendar, so it is highly unlikely he would be able to tell you much about today ten years from now.

Be aware that very few people with OCD are HSAMers.  And Healthymemory would not regard habitually recalling and reflecting about one’s life to be a disorder.  Healthy memory thinks it is beneficial and knows of no negative side effects.   Some obsessive. behaviors can be beneficial.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Human Transactive Memory

December 5, 2012

Transactive memory refers to memories that are available to you but are not present in your own biological memory. Transactive memory is one of this blog’s categories. However, most the posts in this category are about technical transactive memory. Memories that you can retrieve via the internet, the computer, books, and paper are termed technical transactive memory. Actually most of the research into transactive memory has been in the area of human transactive memory. Many of the results from this research have not been particularly surprising. For example, couples who remembered together rather than independently were able to recall significantly more than those who remembered individually. There are also frequent reports of someone losing their long-term partner all of a sudden experiencing a rapid memory decline, as if they’ve lost part of their mind.1

Shared memories provide the foundation for long term relationships and are a source of enjoyment and comfort throughout our lifetimes. I have so many precious memories of my family and friends that I can recall and enjoy. For the goal of keeping our memories healthy and continuing to grow them, fostering human transactive memory is especially important. There are two reasons for doing so. First of all you are expanding and enhancing your own memory. And you are also fostering social relationships, which are also important for a healthy brain and memory.

Marilu Henner of Taxi fame, and is one of the few elite individuals with a Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory, and the author of Total Memory Makeover (see the Healthymemory Blog Posts, “The Importance of Memory,” and “Who Has a Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory and What Can She Tell Us?”). Her family planned and attended events that they continued to remember and share after they occurred. She also discusses memory games that are fun for families.

So grow your social relationships and your transactive memory. Reminiscence and share fond memories with others, challenge each others’ memories, and play memory games.

1Weir, K. (2012). Shared Recall. New Scientist, 6 October, p.37.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Importance of Memory

September 19, 2012

If you have ever watched a loved one suffering from dementia lose their memory, you will appreciate the importance of memory. Memories of her past gradually slip away, and she can eventually forget who you are and who she herself is. It is like the Chesire Cat that disappears leaving its mischievous grin. Our memories define ourselves and when we lose them, we lose ourselves.

Another perspective on the importance of memory is provided by someone with a Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory (HSAM) (see the healthymemory blog post, “Who Has a Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory and What Can She Tell Us”). One of the stars of the TV show Taxi, Marilu Henner informs us in her book, Total Memory Makeover. She describes how she uses her detailed memory of her past to prevent her from making mistakes and to make wise choices. She remembers what she has done well in the past to point the way to future success. She also uses memories of her past mistakes to avoid making the same mistakes in the future.

People understand why she retains pleasant memories but are puzzled why she maintains and finds value in keeping the painful memories. As mentioned in the previous paragraph, she uses them to avoid making past mistakes. But there are other reasons. Psychotherapy often involves a process of dredging up forgotten memories that are the source of current psychological difficulties. I don’t know if Marilu would get a discount at a psychotherapist, but her memory has already taken her to an advanced stage of therapy. She writes that she maintains good relationships with her past two husbands and well as her current one.

One of the therapies for dealing with post traumatic stress syndrome is to relive the traumatic event and to eventually extinguish the traumatic responses to it. Elaborate virtual reality simulations have been developed for these treatments, but someone with a memory like Marilu’s can call up these memories at will and eventually extinguish the adverse emotional reactions to them.

The role of memory in interpersonal relationships is important. The ability to remember information about other people helps one to build relationships including good friendships, relationships with colleagues, and business relationships.

Marilu expounds on how her detailed memory helps her acting. Good actors effectively become the person in the role they are playing. Marilu calls upon her memory to recall emotional states and the way her character would relate to other characters in the performance.

Then, of course, is the matter of education, which is a matter of memory. Not only must information and procedures be learned, but memory plays a role in decision making, problem solving, and the creative process (try entering “decison making,” then “problem solving,” and then “creativity,” in the search box).

© Douglas Griffith and, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Who Has a Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory and What Might She Tell Us?

September 12, 2012

Perhaps the first question is what is a Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory (HSAM). There have been a variety of studies about people with superior memories. Perhaps the first was Luria’s The Mind of a Mnemonist. This was about an individual with synesthesia wherein different senses interacted with each other, sound producing images for example. This ability to readily form images produced remarkable abilities. The man made a living demonstrating these abilities. Unfortunately this amazing ability to remember also had the downside of an inability to forget. Consequently his life wasn’t as happy as it might have been. There are also books by people like Harry Lorayne and Jerry Lucas who discovered mnemonic techniques, like those covered in this blog, developed a great deal of proficiency with them, performed, wrote books, and taught classes about mnemonics.

The discovery of HSAM is very recent. This is not to say that HSAM has not been present in certain individuals for centuries, but the research community has been unaware of such individuals. I was unaware of these people until I viewed a piece on the TV Program Sixty Minutes. Dr. James McGaugh, a Research Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior and a Fellow in the Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory at the University of California-Irvine, became aware of and started studying these extraordinary people. To the best of my knowledge only about 34 such individuals have been identified and studied so far. The nature of this recall ability as shown on Sixty Minutes was the ability to recall what happened on a specific day in the past. So if you asked one of them what happened on 6 August 1999, they would be able to tell you what day of the week that was, and what they did. They might even be able to tell you what they wore and what they ate. If they had watched a sporting event, they could tell the score and the particulars of the event. Marilu Henner, who most of us know from the TV show Taxi and who has had a very successful acting career, was one of the people on the show. When I later learned that she had written a book, Total Memory Makeover, I was tempted to buy but was a little put off by the hype in the title. As I looked further into it I learned that Marilu had a self-improvement business. So my initial decision was not to purchase the book. As time passed, I realized that I could not pass up the opportunity to learn what someone who had such a remarkable memory had to offer. It was a good decision. Here’s what Professor McGaugh wrote in the Foreword to the book. “This book is like no other book about memory, and the insights offered are unique. In these pages we learn from Marilu what it is like to have such a memory, why it is important to her, and why she thinks we can all benefit by taking steps to improve our own remembering. Readers will learn that Marilu is as well organized as she is thoughtful, insightful, enthusiastic, and, well, delightfully humorous. The advice she offers us may not turn all of us (or any of us)into HSAMers, but every reader will learn much about the importance of memory, as well as things we might do to help us maintain memories of our own personal experiences.”

Brain scans of Marilu have shown that certain brain structures important to memory, such as the hippocampus, are larger than normal. But it is important not to confuse cause and effect here. London cab drivers have also found to have hippocampi larger than normal, but this has been attributed to them having to memorize the entire map of London. So it is likely that Marilu’s larger than normal memory structures are the result of her use of them rather than having been born with them.

I found her home life significant. Her father emphasized anticipating an event, participating in the event, and then recollecting the event (her book is organized into three sections of anticipating, participating, and recollection). They liked to have parties and enjoyed the anticipation and the recollection of the parties, and not just the participation in the parties. As a small child she would not only pay attention to the day, date, and month, but would also remember what happened during the day. Then she would periodically review what happened during a past day, week, or month. I was gratified to learn this as I suspected this is what these HSAMers had been doing. Most often, I do not even know what day it is now and need to consult a calendar. So I pay little attention to when something is happening, and I do not systematically review what has happened during these dates. This is something that is entirely feasible, if one has the discipline. Recall actually increases as the time between recall attempts increases. So one might review what happened during the preceding week. Then not review it again until the next month. Then two months, four months, six months, one year, two years, four years. So systematic review is feasible and such review could result in becoming a blossoming HSAMer.

Marilu developed a variety of techniques throughout her life and shares them with you. She also discusses uses of technology and our fellow humans to enhance memory. This is termed transactive memory in the lingo of the healthymemory blog. She discusses memory games for friends, family, and for the development of the memories of children.

The book delivers what the title promises, a Total Memory Makeover. However, there is no requirement that the makeover be total. You can devote as much time as your interest and schedule permits. I think whatever time you devote to this effort will foster a healthy memory. Virtually everything offered in the book will foster a healthy memory.

If you are a parent or grandparent, I would strongly recommend that you get the book and use some of the games and exercises with your children. Perhaps the best gift you can give them is a healthy, well functioning memory. This is even more important with the temptation to rely increasingly on technology instead of our biological memories.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

A Retrieval Exercise for a Healthy Memory

August 12, 2012

Mnemonic techniques provide good mental exercise and can significantly increase your success at recalling information you want to recall. But what about information that is already in your memory? What is the point in trying to retrieve it?

There are a number of points here. The act of trying to remember information aids memory as has been noted in previous Healthymemory Blog posts (“The Benefits of Testing, for example). There is also the distinction between information that is available in your memory, but which you can’t retrieve. That is information that is available but not accessible. Trying to remember information is a good exercise for rendering information that was previously only available, accessible. It reestablished previous memory circuits that have wasted away and can establish new memory circuits.

Here is an exercise. Try to remember the precise year when significant events occurred during the past ten years. Here is part of my experience when I tried this exercise. I made two trips to Japan. I had difficulty remembering the year although I did remember that both trips took place in the same year. I did remember that the trips took place before we moved from our apartment to our house, and I remember that that year was 2003, because it was one year before the election in 2004. But when did I go to Japan. I knew it was sometime in 2003 or earlier because I remember being picked up by a limo at our apartment house for one of the trips. So I knew that it was 2003 or earlier. Then I remembered that the FIFA World Cup was taking place during one of the trips. I looked that up on the internet and discovered that the year was 2002. So now I know that 2002 was the year I took two trips to Japan.

I also took a trip to London with my wife, but when did that happen? I remembered that the trip was taken for our 25th wedding anniversary. Now something I need to remember, and do remember, is our anniversary. We were married on January 3, 1978. So I can safely infer, and now remember, that that trip took place during 2003.

I used the same strategy to remember when we moved my Mom from Florida. That was shortly after celebrating our 30th wedding anniversary, so that was 2008.

So I gave my memory circuits a good workout and established or reestablished some memories. I remember events with respect to their relative position to other events. When I traveled to Japan or London, I was not trying to remember the years I took those trips. At the time it was irrelevant information. Similarly when we moved my Mom, that was irrelevant information at the time. But I was able to establish the specific years by throwing the order of the events I was trying to remember against the years I did remember for other reasons.

They have recently discovered people who have super memories and can remember, as best as can be ascertained, what happened during each day of their lives by date. I am curious as to how they do this. It is possible that they consciously attend to the days and what happens and are effectively keeping a mental diary. I don’t do that. Perhaps if I did, I would have a similar phenomenal memory and would appear on 60 Minutes with Marilu Henner. But I don’t see any purpose in doing this, regardless of how much I like Marilu Henner, so I don’t spend the attention necessary to recall what happened during these days. This recall does imply a substantial amount of attentional processing to recall this amount of detail with significant accuracy. This is pure conjecture on my part, but we all are working with basically the same amount of brain, and it is mainly a matter of how we spend our attentional resources as to what and how much we’ll remember.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.